2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: On the road to Calvary, to crucifixion and death (Luke 23:26-49)
26As they were leading him away, they seized on a man, Simon from Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and made him shoulder the cross carry it behind Jesus. 27Large numbers of people followed him, and of women too, who mourned and lamented for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days will surely come when people will say, ‘Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never suckled!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’; to the hill, ‘Cover us!’ 31For if men use the green wood like this, what will happen when it is dry?” 32Now with him they were also leading out two other criminals to be executed.
33When they reached the place called The Skull, they crucified him there and the two criminals also, one on the right, the other on the left. 34Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Then they cast lots to share out his clothing.
The people stayed there watching him. As for the leaders, they jeered 35at him. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer him vinegar 37they said, “lf you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38Above him there was an inscription: “This is the King of the Jews.”
39One of the criminals hanging there abused him. “Are you not the Christ?” he said. “Save yourself and us as well.” 40But the other spoke up and rebuked him. “Have you no fear of God at all?” he said. “You got the same sentence as he did, 41but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. 42 “Jesus,” he said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 “Indeed, I promise you,” he replied, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
44It was now about the sixth hour and, with the sun eclipsed, a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 45The veil of the Temple was torn right down the middle; 46and when Jesus had cried out in a loud voice, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” With these words he breathed his last.
47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he gave praise to God and said, “This was a great and good man.” 48And when all the people who had gathered for the spectacle saw what had happened, they went home beating their breasts. 49All his friends stood at a distance; so also did the women who had accompanied him from Galilee, and they saw all this happen.
2. 1- Explanation
On the way to the Cross, Luke talks about the carrying of the cross of Jesus by Simon of Cyrene; the tears of the women of Jerusalem and the response that Jesus made to them; the presence of two thieves on either side, one of whom through his repentance attains Paradise; and the death of Jesus as he commits his spirit into his Father’s hands.
– Carrying the cross and following Jesus is the attitude of the true disciple of Jesus (Luke 9:23). Simon of Cyrene is the image of the disciple who truly realizes the fact of following Christ.
– Luke describes the lamentation of the women, in traditional mourning style, beating their breasts and bewailing his fate. Jesus describes their destiny and that of their children as more dangerous than his. That is why he invites them to weep over themselves. The danger of the days to come is emphasized by describing their probable reactions to the future calamity, that would prefer death and non-existence to a life of despair, shame and sin. No doubt, Jesus sees himself as the green tree that is being cut down. It is the green tree that gives life, as opposed to the tree of knowledge of good and evil that brought death (Gen 2:17). The words of Jesus are an invitation for the women to repent before it is too late.
– Jesus’ prayer asking forgiveness for those who have crucified him shows that he is the only mediator between God and men (1Tim 2:5). His words of forgiveness are regarded as the synthesis of the Gospel: he taught that we should love our enemies and now he applies this teaching and himself becomes an example to every Christian disciple. This is exactly how Stephen acted when he was stoned (Acts 7:60). At the crucifixion, the mystery of salvation becomes clear: Jesus is asked to “save” himself and he is mocked by the centurions, the soldiers and one of the criminals, because they are attacking his identity: “The King of the Jews”, etc. They all want him to prove his identity by performing a miracle of magic to free himself from death. They are asking a helpless, crucified man to grant life and salvation, but they totally miss the truth that, through his suffering and death, he is crushing death by means of death and granting life to the dead.
– Luke presents the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus as two companions on the same way of the cross. He judges them morally, saying that they are paying for their wicked deeds (Lk 23:41). The crucifixion of Jesus in between the other two recalls the words of Isaiah: “surrendering himself to death and letting and letting himself be taken for a sinner” (Is 53:12). Luke emphasizes salvation and forgiveness and speaks of “today” as the day of salvation and forgiveness. The saved thief confesses his fear of God, he recognizes his punishment as just, and he professes that Jesus is innocent. Uttering the name of Jesus, saying, “Jesus, remember me”, without adding any title, indicates that he is familiar with Jesus and that he is confident in the saving power of Jesus. For this, Jesus gives him the fullness of life in Paradise, instead of a momentary “salvation” from pain and death.
– The death of Jesus is accompanied by cosmic apocalyptic signs, as if both earth and heaven wanted to mourn the death of the Redeemer. According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words were: “Father, in your hands, I commit my spirit” (v. 46); and, his first words recorded by Luke, spoken at the age of twelve, were: “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs” (Lk 2:49). Thus, Jesus’ life was always under the Father’s gaze and in obedience to his will; the hands of the Father showed mercy, while the hands of men, to whom Jesus was handed over, showed harshness. After Jesus’ death, the pagan centurion professed his faith in the innocence of Jesus; in this way, he becomes the model for all doubters and non-believers.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Jesus was not alone on the way to crucifixion; he was surrounded by good people, like Simon of Cyrene, and by women who wept and mourned for him. He was also accompanied by two criminals who suffered the same fate as himself. This companionship on the road to Calvary allowed Jesus to converse, to remain open to those who surrounded him and to call them all to repentance, despite his weakened body and his intense pain. Let us ask ourselves: Are we willing to follow Jesus in our journey through life, accepting with joy and patience every cross we encounter? Do we act, as did Simon of Cyrene, by dressing the wounds of humanity?
The contradiction between a Christ both physically weak and divinely all-powerful, is the main problem with any adequate description of Jesus on the cross. How is it possible that the man who was nailed to the cross is the expected Messiah who will save his people and gain for them the fullness of eternal life? This question is not only a question for the past, but for all times. Today’s Gospel reveals Jesus in his incomparable mercy and as the source of ultimate salvation for the believer who fears God. From the Cross, Jesus was still capable of being the bond between God and humanity and the model of the true disciple. On our way, we are invited to humility, conversion of the heart and the confession of our sins, in the hope that one day we will attain our longed-for happiness in Paradise.